Russia and China are seeking to press the Syrian opposition to support peace efforts by United Nations envoy Kofi Annan and proposed a meeting of countries that have influence over the rebels and the government.
“Russia and China have a clear understanding that this is of crucial importance at this stage, when there is no shortage of those who want, through their words and subversive actions, to scuttle the Kofi Annan plan,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters in Beijing today after two days of meetings between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leaders including his counterpart Hu Jintao.
While Western leaders have called for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s ouster, Russia has vowed to veto any attempt at imposing sanctions on his government through the UN Security Council, where it holds veto-empowered permanent membership along with the U.S., the U.K., France and China. Russia has called for negotiations between Assad and his opponents to reach a political settlement.
The five permanent members, the European Union, the Organization of Islamic Conference and Arab League states, Turkey and Iran should take part in the meeting, Lavrov said, adding that Syrian representatives shouldn’t be invited to initial talks.
“It’s essential to call a meeting of states that have real influence over the various opposition groups,” Lavrov said. “We must all pile pressure on the Syrian side with which each of us has the most sway and convince them to stop any violence.”
Russia, which accuses Syrian armed opposition groups of sabotaging Annan’s almost two-month-old peace plan, will hold talks with the U.S. in Moscow on June 8 on seeking an orderly transfer of power by Assad, according to two U.S. officials speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
The Russian Foreign Ministry yesterday condemned “amoral” foreign support for the rebels, who are receiving weapons and financing, according to a statement posted on its website.
“The goal of such a meeting, bringing together all foreign players at the first stage without the Syrians, is to agree honestly and without double standards to implement Kofi Annan’s plan, because we all supported it,” Lavrov said.
Syria accuses Saudi Arabia and Qatar of seeking the failure the UN plan to end the 15-month conflict by continuing to arm rebels in violation of a cease-fire agreement reached in April.
“Weapons are entering Syria through its borders with Lebanon and Turkey,” Syria’s ambassador to Russia, Riad Haddad, said in a June 1 interview. “And these are heavy weapons.”
Although Assad’s forces announced an end to hostilities on April 12, in line with the UN accord, violence has persisted because rebels are pursuing attacks, Haddad said.
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